Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


Royal Rumble: New Gear vs. Old Gear

I held in my hand a $210 quilt that has the latest and greatest technology inside of it, like piles of 850 goose down-filled baffles with silky 10d nylon.  At my feet is a new sleep pad that was designed with body mapping technology to cradle me as I sleep.  These are the kinds of things you read about and see when you start buying gear for your thru hike or outdoor adventure.

I’m like most people – ok maybe not most – but I have a lot of gear that is old, but has served me well for many years.  They are my ‘go-to’ items such as my Golite quilt, Big Agnes one-man tent and closed cell foam pad that has seen better days.  We each have those pieces of gear that have been with us forever, like an old friend. I know I can depend on them because they will not let me down.  These pieces of gear are iconic in our minds, so it’s hard to start thinking about buying new gear for my CDT trip.  I almost feel like I’m cheating on my old gear just by thinking about this new and exciting gear I want to buy.  Recently, I had the opportunity to buy some gear at great prices, so I pulled the trigger and got a couple of new things, despite what I imagined as nasty looks from my old gear.

Nemo Siren 30 quilt:  This quilt is the newest technology in quilt manufacturing and the first run for a company called Nemo Equipment.  It’s rated at 30 degrees, weighs 18 oz, 6’ long, 10d nylon on the outside and filled with 850 fill down. If you’ve never used a quilt, think of a sleeping bag with the bottom cut out.  I’ve been sleeping in quilts exclusively for 5 years and absolutely love them.  By using a quilt you save weight because there is no zipper and no hood.  I toss and turn during the night and this quilt is wide enough to prevent drafts from coming in and is a great piece to just throw over you as you hang out in camp.


Klymit Inertia X-lite:  This is a ¾ length pad that is the worlds lightest, most compact and technically advanced sleeping pad on the market today.  It blows up in about 3 breaths and is pretty comfortable.  It rolls up smaller then a banana and weighs only 6.1 oz.  This will be new for me, since I’ve traditionally used a ¾ length closed cell foam pad for several years, using my pack as the portion that protects my legs from the ground.  I’ve never been a huge fan of inflatable pads because, in my eyes, it’s a ‘moving part’, which means it has features that could go wrong.  It could pop, it could leak or some valve could break off.  I purchased it because if I’m going to be sleeping on the ground for 5 months, I should get something that is comfortable. And I have to say, when I laid on it, it was very comfortable.


Rab Xenon Jacket:  Weighing only 12 oz in size Large, this jacket is a synthetic power house featuring super lightweight synthetic fill that will stay warm even when wet.  I picked this as my ‘go-to’ garment for early morning hiking in cold weather and in case of light rain in the cold.  It comes with a full-length zipper, 2 zipped pockets and a chest pocket, which is essential, in my eyes, for storing items you will need quickly and won’t have to worry about slipping out of your pocket.  I wore it recently, while walking a dog in a snowfall. It kept we warm and dry with only a cotton tee shirt underneath in 32-degree weather, for over an hour.




Pmags- Interview with a thru hiker


I walked into the brewery, to the immediate smell of hops and malts hanging in the air. I was ready to drink me some damn good beer. I was also here to meet Paul Magnanti, or “Pmags,” as known by everyone out on the trail and his blog,

I was excited to meet him and happy that we could meet at the Avery Brewery, a local favorite of both of ours. This was my first real interview ever, if you don’t count the janitor and lunch lady for the school newspaper. He was gracious enough to meet me so I could ask some questions about the CDT and get some straight answers.

Pmags did the CDT Sobo starting in July 2006, not taking his first zero day until Salmon, ID. This hike completed the Triple Crowner after starting with the AT, then PCT and finishing with the CDT, as he says most people do. He did miss the San Juans due to heavy snow, taking what he described as the Super Creede cut off. He took routes such as Butte vs. Anaconda, the Gilas in New Mexico for the ruins, and the Winds for their stunning beauty. He’s definitely a ‘Hike Your Own Hike’ kind of hiker. He’s more likely to tell you “it depends”, rather than to tell you exactly how you should do it. His philosophy is: It’s all about what’s best for you and your situation. If you read his blog, it’s not full of technically detailed reviews of the new (insert company) jacket and how the fibers work and moisture transfers or how it could save you from a zombie apocalypse. He reports on how to get good stuff at Costco, a good shirt from Target and why not to eat Value Brand bologna on the trail after 5 days in your pack.

I wanted to know more about the logistics of the trail and what’s real compared to what you hear on the forums from a ‘pack sniffer’ (Google it now, I’ll wait).


You hear a lot of stories about how bad the bears are in Yellowstone, or is it Glacier, or watch out in the Bob Marshall. The perception of bears is not that big of a concern, as long as you stay especially aware around Grizzlies. He does advocate a different hiking style while in bear country. Some of the suggestions he made were:

  • Don’t eat where you sleep
  • Stop and eat dinner, then continue hiking again
  • Camping for the night with your food hung far away.

The chances of encountering a bear can be likely, but more so in Glacier because it is more spread out, with fewer opportunities for the bears to encounter humans and get used to us. Yellowstone is day hiked a lot so the bears are more used to people Also, the large hunting parties in the Bob train bears to avoid humans because, to them, humans equal guns. Typically hunters shoot right above their heads if they have an encounter. I think the hyper-alertness you need to have in these areas is the biggest stress, making it more of a mental game with yourself, than an encounter situation. Pmags relied on his techniques, and didn’t even carry a bear canister through any of these areas, and he hasn’t been eaten yet.

Food & Water:

If you’re thinking about taking snickers bars on your hike, consider that Pmags ate 60 of them in 20 days during his Colorado Trail thru hike. Keeping it simple while your out on the trail is a good policy if you don’t have any dietary or medical restrictions on your diet. If you do, then relying on mail drops and timing your stops in town to parallel the local post office hours will be key. If you can eat anything, then you can rely on mail drops, super markets and the occasional convenient store rotating heating rack. If you’re hiking to a spot that is remote you are going to have to mail yourself food, such as places like Ghost Ranch, but when you hit any larger city with a good food selection you can mail ahead your next 5 packages, as he did. This gives you the flexibility to not have to worry about shipping yourself 26 boxes, paying postage and finding a friend to help you. It provides the ability to pick foods that you like right then, or what sounds good to you for the next couple of weeks. Nothing could be worse then packing something up in March and eating it in July. Who knows what your body will be craving at that time or what just sounds really good. Eating 5,000 cals per day was typical for his hike. Estimating an average of 100 cals per oz makes the math easy to calculate when buying food. Follow the KISS philosophy for food, make sure you have carbs and protein in your diet, such as a simple tuna and rice, and try not to get overwhelmed by trying to calculate the ratio for each type of food.

Pmags is a self proclaimed Dip & Sip kind of hiker, meaning he’s not too picky about his water and uses Iodine mostly to purify. What he’s seen on the trail is mostly hikers who use Iodine or Aqua Mira do selective treatments. Steripens are for religious purifiers and pumps are for weekenders. He’s horrified people such as the Princess of Darkness (POD) out on the Wyoming Basin, doing a 5 min iodine treatment on what she considered to be very suspect water.


Trail Towns, Trail Angels, Orange Buckets and Not Stinking

Trail towns are all about food. It’s the first thing you think about when you hit town and are craving the calories you just burned. Pmag’s food of choice is good old-fashioned pub grub; Burger, Fries, Salad and a local beer when he could. When he hit a town and wasn’t starving, he would get a hotel, take shower, do some laundry, then get some food, shop, send emails and do any mailings. Get the things you need to get done first, before you crash into your bed and start catching up on ‘Honey Boo Boo’. Taking a shower first is the important part because, as he says, “its one thing to have a big beard, another to stink.” Be considerate of the locals. They are not there to gush all over you because you’re walking across America. Trail Angels are there to help because they are great people and want to support you and the trail, but they are not your parents. Don’t expect them to give you something because you’re a thru hiker; a simple “please” and “thank you” go a long way, in his book. Leadville is what he calls a real hiker town with a great hostel and wonderful mountain town feel. Salmon, ID is another great town even if it is a 50-mile hitch there. Most trail towns these days have a restaurant, bar or library where you can get Internet access if you need it. If you’re worried about that, you can utilize a bounce bucket that you send from town to town. Pmags used a bright orange Home depot bucket because it was lightweight, durable and every post office employee could easily spot it, lowering your chances of it getting lost. These days you can’t rely on payphones anymore (seriously, when was the last time you saw a pay phone?), so bouncing a phone or iPad could be great for you. You can also bounce chargers, self-addressed stamped envelopes, maps, medications or whatever you need along the trial.

Electronics & Mental

The use of electronics on the trail is a hot debate for any hiker regardless of ability. Pmags will say to take what is best for you but he doesn’t see it as a necessity for the hike. If you want to bring it, cool, but hiking the CDT and the American West, for that matter, isn’t that difficult, navigationally. As he says, “Harder was having to worry about navigation, not navigation itself but, worrying about navigation, can’t just zone out, you have to be on the ball“. Even today he doesn’t think that he would take a GPS with him, which is the way that I plan on traveling as well.

The one question I find myself asking anyone who has done any large athletic feat is how you handle it mentally. How did you push yourself to accomplish what you have accomplished? The CDT is beautiful in many ways, but there will be boring sections, hard sections and times when I am just going to want to get off of the damn trail. Making the transition from backpacker to thru hiker as he says is a transition from the mentality of a typical weekend backpacker who is hiking to camp, to that of a thru hiker, who is hiking to hike, not to camp. These two activates are totally different. A good way of seeing if you are up for a thru hike is to go out for a week, hike to hike and see if you enjoy hiking with a pack on all day. In the end, if you can’t make that transition from backpacker to thru hiker, the trail will be very difficult for you. If you go out there with a romantic view of the trail and deny the realities of it you will probably not make it. You need to stay positive and understand your abilities. I once read a quote saying that ‘thru hiking is about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable’ and I think that’s true.

So what does the future hold for the CDT?

The CDT has changed since his sobo hike in 2006 with his pocket mail and heavier equipment. Today we are fortunate to have an ‘official’ route now with the introduction of the Bear Creek maps and the wonderful Ley maps being continually updated. Books like Cheryl Stayed will help create a buzz about the trail, but only a temporary bump in numbers of participants. Pmags says that the CDT will become more like the PCT in the future with a more ‘official’ route and unofficial side trail options. He doesn’t think the trail will ever be finished because the CDT will always be a HYOH kind of trail, and he likes that about it. He speaks to the population surrounding the trail. With very few large cities near the trail, it will always lead to it being less worked by volunteers, less used by hikers, and have fewer resources, compared to the AT or even the PCT. This rural aspect of the trail means that it will never truly be completed. It will always remain a rugged patchwork of trails that will lead people along the Continental Divide and provide them with an experience of a lifetime. Will a book about the CDT create more buzz about it? Sure, but in the end it will always be a special trail for everyone.

Pmags has had some great adventures in his life, like hiking the long trails or enjoying his passions for backcountry skiing and climbing. He’s enjoyed the time and reflection the trails have provided him and have made him part of who he is today. I know that the itch will always be there for him to be active outdoors, and I hope that I can get the same attitude as him during and after my CDT experience.


Fast and Light through the Grand Gulch

Looking down Slickhorn Canyon

Looking down Slickhorn Canyon

It was day 5 of my Thanksgiving trip and I was waking up next to the San Juan River as it winded through the red stoned cliffs that surrounded it.  Today was the day I was going to charge up Slickhorn Canyon like a ball of fire and nothing was going to stop me.

Getting ready to hike the CDT is a challenge that will test you in many ways, so for this Thanksgiving I decided to give myself a good physical challenge.  For the past 7 years I have taken a backpacking trip to southern Utah during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Like any addicted backpacker you view company days off, especially a Thursday and Friday, as just an excuse to take a nice long backpacking trip.  This year I decided on an 82.2 mile loop in the Grand Gulch Primitive area in southern Utah that would test me physically, logistically and navigationally.  I’ve been to the Grand Gulch before, always wanting to hike the entire length.  My prize would be the smell and sounds of the river and all the water I could drink.  Instead of just going back the way I came, I planned to walk the 3 miles along the San Juan to the opening of Slickhorn Canyon and then hike up the canyon to my bike.  My mountain bike was chained to a juniper tree that would take me the 7 miles back to my car, creating what I called the Grand Loop.  From all the research I did, I didn’t see any mention of this loop or anybody doing it, so I will just announce now that I am the first person to ever do it (probably not true).

Dont' steal my bike

I was going to hike 82.2 miles in 8 days with just my map and compass, no GPS. I brought 15.2 lbs of food equaling 1.9 lbs of food per day, which would keep me feed and warm in the expected 50 degree days and mid 20 degree nights.

My food supply

My food supply

My gear was a minimal collection of a frameless pack, half sleep pad, 20 degree bag, a freestanding tarp, long johns, long sleeve top, cut off pants, 2 pairs of socks, 1 change of undies and my beloved hat. I’ve had my hat since I first started backpacking and it has been on all my adventures.  It’s my favorite piece of gear that I never leave home without.

I left my job in Boulder at 4 pm, arriving at the Bullet Canyon Trail head at 12 am.  In the morning I drove to Slickhorn Canyon #1 and locked up my mountain bike to a Juniper tree with a note asking anyone that found it not to steal it, hoping they would listen.  I started down Bullet Canyon on Saturday at 10 am, watching the canyon walls grow higher and higher around me as I descended to the canyon floor.  I stopped at Perfect Kiva to sit in it again; it was like visiting an old friend after a long absence.  That night I camped near Totem pole with the sound of light rain hitting my tent which was good fortune as this lowered my water problems just a bit.  I hiked the next couple of days going down the Grand Gulch, walking in the rocky creek bed and trudging through the sand.  As I walked, I passed many ruins, hieroglyphics and petroglyphs that were on the map, but found far more that weren’t.  Staying alert in Canyon country is important because there are no warm and fuzzy signs pointing you to the sites or telling you which canyon is which.  You have to pay attention because one missed canyon or water source can have a negative effect on your trip.

Hand prints 1  Big Man

I was moving faster than expected over the next couple of days.  My daily schedule included getting up at 7 each day, leaving camp by 7:45 and eating my breakfast bars as I started hiking.  This is the schedule that I wanted to replicate, to be like what it will be on the CDT; chasing the sun to get in my daily mileage, repetition at its finest.  I reached the San Juan on Day 4 of my trip and what a great sight it was.  The beautifully flowing river, so soft in its appearance, cutting through the canyon like it had been built there.  The smell of the water, the shadows across the walls of the canyons and the sense of finally making it here after 4 years of wishing was tremendous.  I was very happy to say the least.  That night I setup my shelter 3 yards from the San Juan, making a little fire from wood a NOLS group had left behind and smoked a fine cigar.  Everything was right in the world.

San Juan Campsite

The next morning was a completely different situation.  What I thought would be an easy 3 mile, 2 hour trip ended up taking me 6 ½ hours to complete.  I had counted on there being a small patch of vegetation hugging the river the whole way that I could walk along to the mouth of Slickhorn.  Instead what I got were constant up and down ledges, over and around large and small boulders that were constantly shifting and sliding from beneath my feet.  The vegetation was thick and tough to push through, not to mention the sharp and prickly plants that were eager to taste a sample of my blood.  After 6 ½ hours of difficult hiking I was happy to be approaching the mouth of the canyon.  As I sat down after that long and difficult hike a huge bee stung me right on the back, in the one spot that I could barely reach.   What a great way to conclude such a day.  I decided to not hike any further; I’d had enough of hiking, so I setup camp again by the San Juan making the best out of a hard day.  That night I had a dream that made me feel unworthy of being in a place like this, that I was some how faking it.  In my dream I was still the 292 lb person I had been just 11 months earlier; sad, fat and depressed.  I woke up at 6:30 that morning and the first words out of my mouth was “Fuck you!!!!”  I was determined that day to push it hard, to hike my ass off and push myself to my personal edge.  I hiked almost nonstop from 7 am until 6 pm while gaining 2,800 feet of elevation when I finally reached my bike in the dark.  I was a blaze of fire coming out of that canyon, which was difficult to navigate with its endless pour offs to navigate and multiple side canyons tempting me in wrong directions.

Bullet canyon 1

That day I hiked the most I had ever hiked in my entire life with a pack on: 17.9 miles.  In the morning, I mounted my bike with sore and wobbly legs to peddle the 7 miles back to my car.  The road was a mix of deep sand with some hard pack mixed in to tease me.  I reached my car on Friday at 10:30 am; it had taken me 6 days, not the 8 to go 82.2 miles. I was so happy that not only had I accomplished my goal of completing this loop but, because 12 months ago I had set a goal to lose weight and get fit enough so I could do things exactly like what I had just done.  I had accomplished my goal.


I Am Your New Year’s Resolution

It was 12:30 am on my 33rd birthday. I had been up since 6 am the previous morning.  The wind was howling outside of my tent, blowing snow and bitter cold.  I was putting on my boots to hike up to the top of Mt. Bierstadt to watch the sunrise. This was going to be a good year!

Flashback to December 26th, 2011: the day I made the decision that I was going to start getting my life together.  I was going to lose weight, be happier and start living out my dreams regardless of what other people said.

Fast-forward to today:  It’s January 1, 2013 and I can say that I have lost 60 lbs. this year by exercising and changing my diet to more reflect a Paleo diet.  I am also on my way to hiking the CDT in 2013 and I am pretty happy these days.  This past year has been full of ups and downs, and I want to share some of the best and worse times with you.

The not so good stuff:

  • Getting divorced and going through that emotional process
  • Starting a new life with many unknowns laying before me
  • Changes in things I thought were concrete; like my parents’ marriage
  • Learning that working out and staying motivated isn’t as easy as I thought
  • Stupid Pontiacs that need to have their brakes changed all the time!
  • Realizing that not everyone will support my new way of thinking and how I want to live

The good stuff:

  • Moving to Boulder to be closer to work- 7 min commute vs. 1 ¼ hrs previously
  • Hiking up Mt. Bierstadt for my birthday and watching the sunrise over the Rockies, by myself
  • Running the Colorado Spartan Race with my sister- I now love obstacle races!
  • Starting to run and running the Bolder Boulder 10K and Merrill Down & Dirty 10K
  • Committing myself to meditation and reading at least one book a month
  • Going to therapy to work out my ‘issues’
  • Learning that I am tougher then I thought I was; mentally & physically
  • Most importantly, reevaluating my life and what I want out of it.  A clear path is the only way to move forward.

I started out the year with just another New Year’s resolution, but now I know that even though they are cliché in a way, they are important to make.  They’re a reminder of what you want to accomplish for the year; how to be a better you.  I started out just saying I wanted to lose 75lbs, but what made me lose 60lbs was remembering why I wanted to lose the weight.  Constantly reminding yourself of the why is what keeps you going after you’re sick of the diet change, the new foods and the new way of thinking about your daily activities.  It’s also not about what you are losing but what you are gaining from this.  Feeling better, looking better, playing with your kids without getting winded, having a more positive mind set and not just having a dream but the will to make it happen.

Setting goals that are attainable are the most important part of this whole transition.  You can’t just say “I’m going to lose 75lbs,” because it won’t work.  I learned it’s easier to say, “this week I will exercise 5 days this week and only drink 3 beers this weekend.”  These are attainable goals that keep you focused, but also help you reach your big goal.  Last thing I will say is that you will fail at some of your goals.  I’m not trying to be harsh but its true.  You will be distracted and you will fall back into old habits after the glow of attaining your new goals wears off.  This is not the time to quit. It’s the time to test your resolve.  Do you have the will and desire to get back on track.  Yes, you went to McDonalds and ate a Big Mac, super sized fries and washed it down with a 6 pack of microbrew.  It tasted good and felt good but you know it did not help you reach your goal.  What you do now is say to yourself “I screwed up and gave myself the fix I needed to feel normal again, but its time to get back at it.” This is how you will accomplish your goal.

Although the CDT may just be a loose connection of individual trails, that together create the CDT, right now it is like a person to me.  I think about it constantly and I am trying to make every decision relate to it.   Getting myself ready for it and being fit to hike it, preparing properly and getting to the finish — is my New Year’s resolution.  Next year, I hope to be writing about what an amazing trip it was and where I am at in my life.